The Effect Of Parental Incarceration

Incarceration does not solely affect the person incarcerated but also the family, children and other loved ones. Evidence of the increase on incarceration is felt in society. According to Harrison & Beck (2006), the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that there were about 1.5 million children are suffering the consequences of parental incarceration every year. Parental incarceration has been associated with long and short terms risk factors (Johnston, 1995). Children of the incarcerated become more susceptible to mental health issues, behavioral problems, and difficulties in school performance among many other issues (Farraington, 2002).

There are different schools of thought on the impact of incarceration on children depending on whether the mother or father is incarcerated and the length of the sentence. The consequences have a different impact on the child wellbeing (Berry and Eigenberg, 2003; Mumola, 2000). According to Schafer& Dellinger (1999), the lengthy incarceration tends to have adverse effects on incarcerated parents as well.

Best services for writing your paper according to Trustpilot

Premium Partner
From $18.00 per page
4,8 / 5
Writers Experience
Recommended Service
From $13.90 per page
4,6 / 5
Writers Experience
From $20.00 per page
4,5 / 5
Writers Experience
* All Partners were chosen among 50+ writing services by our Customer Satisfaction Team

The purpose of this research is to understand complexity and the effects of parental incarceration on parents and children and discovering potential interventions to mitigate a continuing cycle of the adverse effects that result from the parental incarceration and enhance the effectiveness of educational programming for the children of the incarcerated in the school system and the community.


Harris & Beck (2006) stated based on the Department of Justice, in 2005 report that one out of every 136 individual in the United States was incarcerated in prison or jail. The records also indicate that the number of incarceration is in the rise. During the period between 1995 and 2005, the number increased by average of 44,527 which does not include the jail population. This data raise many concerns regarding the consequences of the long term isolation of the incarcerated and the impact on them, their family, and especially on their children (Newby, 2006).

Parental incarceration comprises of many topics and concerns that correspondingly affect the children and their parents. According to Berry and Eigenberg (2003), studies indicate that there are some fundamental differences based on whether the mother or the father is incarcerated. Mothers are likely to gain custody of the children prior to incarceration while fathers are less likely to have similar advantages. Additionally, fathers’ sentences are more likely to be longer than mothers. The research concludes that the impact on the child is contingent on whether the mother or the father is incarcerated (Mumola, 2000).

The annual Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that there are at least 1.5 million children suffer from parental incarceration in prison (Harrison & Beck, 2006). This number does not include the jail populations which also continue to increase. Therefore, it is essential to study the short and long term impact and implications on children of the incarcerated parents. According to Johnston (1995), the children of the incarcerated parents when compared to non-incarcerated parents are more likely to be incarcerated themselves during their lifetime. Thus, it emphasizes the urgency of understanding and exploring the risk factors that may donate to the substantial difference between the two groups. The study of the impact of parental incarceration on children is complex due to several confounding variables and risk factors that makes it difficult to reach to casual relationships between the child and his incarcerated parents. Studies indicated that, statistically, the children of the incarcerated are more susceptible to violence, alcohol, substance abuse and family structure instability (Phillips, Erkanli, Keeler, Costello & Angold, 2006). Additionally, it is more likely that children of incarcerated are raised by a family member or a caretaker that usually with low levels of educational and may be inflected with substance abuse and other issues such as mental health, which in turn contribute to negative consequences for children (Katz, 1998). Researchers are investigating the availability of programming and services that will mitigate the risks factors that affect the incarcerated parent and their children. The accessibility and the effectiveness of educational programming and services differ from one establishment to the other depending on the financial aspects and the attitude of the correctional institution toward these programs (Hughes & Harrison-Thompson, 2002).

Degraaf, Speetjens, Smit, Dewolff & Tavecchio (2008) reported that programs that are designed to reduce problem behaviors in children and addressing issues from the viewpoint of looking at the deficits in parenting styles and knowledge are more effective than programs which solely aim to tackle the behaviors of the child. The effects that children endure as a result of parental incarceration are change in school performance and behavioral issues. For these reasons, the negative impact of parental incarceration has drawn interest of multiple fields and especially education. Some of the recommendations that were suggested by professional are involving children in mentorship organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters that proved to be effective in changing negative behaviors. Children of incarcerated are less likely to use drugs or engage in other disruptive behaviors (Tierney, Grossman & Resch, 1995).

The impact of parental incarceration has adverse results that affect not only the incarcerated parent but includes the lives of their families, spouses and their children. All aspects of children’s lives become affected. They suffer the loss of a parent and most children do not have the capacity to cope with such ordeal. Their depression or sadness is reflected in adverse behaviors, school performance or use of drugs. Children may also have problem sleeping, bed wetting and other physical illnesses. This research explore the effects of parental

incarceration on children and research the resources for educational programming and services to support the incarcerated parents and their children.

Statement of the Problem

Due to the increase number of children with incarcerated parents and the consequent adverse results that have long term effects on the children. The need for effective programs to help these children is a priority and the responsibility of the community to break the continuing cycle of the children of incarcerated is in that place themselves. Special attention has to be given from educators and work diligently on providing the appropriate programs and support for the incarcerated individuals and their families.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is was to examine current and available research on the effects of parental incarceration on their children and identifying means to support the needs of this population. Moreover, this study will examine the strength and weaknesses of current programs and make recommendations to enhance these programs to meet the needs of the children and their incarcerated parents.

Research Questions

What is the evidence of parental incarceration as a predictor of child’s disruptive behavior and mental health problem?

What are the possible causal effects of parental incarceration in the child?

3. What parental programming is available to support the needs of incarcerated parents?

4. What can schools and community does to assist children of incarcerated parents?

Definition of Terms


The definition of incarceration is “as to subject to confinement. Confinement may be in either a prison or jail setting” (Merriam-Webster, 2011)


“Relating through one’s father” (Merriam-Webster, 2011)

Parental Educational Programming

It is a type of educational programming providing life and parental skills to incarcerated parents. There are several types of programs that offer multi parenting topics such as anger management, conflict resolution, communication and discipline.

Significant of the Study

The writer of this study recognizes the long term adverse effect of parental incarceration on children’s subsequent behaviors and mental health. Top of Form

Studies show that parent’s incarceration has adverse effect on families and children in particular. Comfort (2007) explained that children are traumatized by witnessing their parents being arrested and having to understand and deal with their absence and visit their parents in prison behind bars. Furthermore, children may have to deal with the parent after being released and the parents’ assimilation back in the family dynamic (Murray and Farrington, 2008). Recidivism may also contribute to childhood trauma due to the cycle of incarceration and release. Research suggests that financial pressure and employment prospects may strain relationship within the family and may lead to separation or divorce (Pager 2003). According to Nurse (2002), some women may find a new partner when their partners are incarcerated, which changes the care arrangements.

The level of stress increases during a parent’s incarceration and may lead to depression (Braman, 2004 & Green et al., 2006). The effectiveness of parenting practices is critical during this period. The lack of discipline and structure, in addition to violence and unpredictable behavior, from the incarcerated parents, have long term adverse consequences on the children (Nurse, 2002).

Thus, it is important to shed light on the consequences of parents’ incarceration on children’s behavioral problems at early age in order to provide the incarcerated parent and their children with educational programming and coping skills that will deter the children’s behavioral problems and mental health problems.

Limitations of the Study

The study is limited to a review of research between the years of 1997- 2010. Research conducted prior to this period was not considered. This writer used electronic scholarly and peer reviewed journal sources. Due to confounding variables of which the children of the incarcerated are exposed, a causal correlation cannot be drawn between parental incarceration and outcomes for children.

You Might Also Like